Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Peru drugs arrests: Michaella McCollum Connolly's emotional reunion with brother

Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid stand behind their luggage after being detained at the airport in Lima, Peru (AP)
Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid stand behind their luggage after being detained at the airport in Lima, Peru (AP)

Suspected Northern Irish drug-smuggler Michaella McCollum Connolly has had an emotional reunion with her brother Keith, who has travelled to Peru where she is in police custody.

Co Tyrone woman Michaella (20) was arrested last week at an airport in the South American country along with Scottish girl Melissa Reid on suspicion of trying to smuggle £1.5m worth of cocaine to Spain.

Both girls are protesting their innocence and maintain they were forced into carrying luggage containing the drugs by a violent gang.

They face a lengthy prison sentence if convicted.

Michaella had been working as a nightclub hostess on the Spanish resort island of Ibiza before she vanished a number of weeks ago and turned up in jail in Peru. Her brother has arrived in the capital Lima with high-profile Belfast lawyer Peter Madden.

The pair met with Michaella to organise her defence.

Melissa Reid's father William arrived at the jail a number of hours later to see his daughter.

It is understood that Mr Madden and Mr McCollum plan to meet several local lawyers who will represent Michaella in court proceedings that could begin as early as next week. A source close to the family said: "Their priority at this point is to get the best defence possible for Michaella."

It is expected that Michaella and Melissa will face a judge in court in Callao, a province near Lima, by Wednesday at the latest.

It is a port city as well as the location of the Jorge Chavez Airport and so drugs smuggling cases are more common in that court.

If found guilty, the girls face a lengthy sentence in Santa Monica jail – a notorious prison. The girls could be tried under strict laws for anti-narcotics cases, similar to anti-terrorism cases, or like diplock courts here.

There may be restrictions on members of the public and the media attending court under those laws. A court source said: "There will be top security measures in place outside the court – for fear of spying on the proceedings."

However, there might be an exception made as the pair are foreign women.

Mr Madden – a former colleague of murdered human rights solicitor Pat Finucane – has said he expects to spend at least a week in Lima.

Before leaving Belfast, Mr Madden, after speaking to Michaella on the phone, told reporters: "She's saying she has done nothing wrong and that she is innocent."

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